'Chope food for needy' movement wins praise

But some hawkers not keen to take money, unsure who needs food most

The idea is to give extra cash to hawkers, who then pass it on to their poorer customers.

And Chope Food for the Needy has so far provided at least 50 people with free meals - while winning plaudits from the volunteer sector.

But the two-week-old movement is also having a few teething problems. Some hawkers are not keen on accepting the money, saying they would rather donors give cash to the recipients directly. This is because they find it too hard to identify who in the queue needs it the most. There is also the fear that they could be accused of pocketing the cash.

Others have resorted to delivering food packets directly to needy residents, a process that can be time-consuming and less targeted than organised charity work.

Chope Food for the Needy founder Michelle Tan, 40, said the inspiration behind the initiative was the caffe sospeso or suspended coffee movement in Italy, where patrons typically buy coffee in advance for the needy.

So far, the group's Facebook page has received 8,000 likes. And the number of donations registered on it has risen to about 250, up from 30 in the first few days following the April 2 launch.

But hawkers who spoke to The Straits Times said they have been having difficulties.

The owner of a vegetarian food stall in Owen Road said he has trouble distributing free plates of beehoon because not all residents who eat at the hawker centre are poor.

The 45-year-old hawker, who wanted to be known only as Mr Leong, had to go to rental flats nearby to distribute $50 worth of the noodles on two of his days off.

He said: "I feel obligated to quickly distribute the money customers donate. It's stressful for me because I work 10-hour days."

Holland Village chicken rice seller Teo Kwee Eng, 45, enlisted the help of long-time customer Wong Hui Chew, a 37-year-old rag-and-bone man, who helped hand-deliver 20 packets of chicken rice to elderly residents in Holland Close.

Meanwhile, Mr Yusof Ahmad, a 43-year-old hawker who operates a Malay food stall in Ghim Moh, said: "It's not just about giving out food; we have to wait for the right person to come by." Out of the $10 he received through the initiative, he has donated $4 worth of food so far.

Mr Raymond Teo, 45, who runs a fishball noodle stall in Albert Centre, said he is facing a similar conundrum and worries that people will feel entitled to free food. He said: "Although this is a good effort, I feel that the best way to help the needy is to get meal vouchers for them."

Ms Tan, who owns a vintage boutique, emphasised that the idea is to make reserved plates of food available should the need arise. She said: "I've asked donors to make it clear to hawkers that the reserved food does not need to be given out immediately."

She also pointed out that it has been only two weeks since the initiative was rolled out.

"The hawkers know the spotlight is on them, so they may feel the pressure to offload the donations 'extra promptly' in the light of the cynical comments that have been made about dishonest hawkers' possibly pocketing money.

"As with any new project or idea, it will take some time for everything to work smoothly."

Hawker Tan Sai Gek, who sells duck rice at Mei Ling food centre, described the movement as "meaningful" and said she is all for it. The 64-year-old added she has seen elderly people with only "a dollar to buy a duck's head".

Touch Home Care director Kavin Seow said it is encouraging to see individuals coming forward with new initiatives to do their bit for the needy.

National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre chief executive Laurence Lien called the movement a laudable ground-up initiative. "This is exactly what we call taking ownership in our social and community issues," he said. "Essentially, helping the less fortunate or needy is not just the job of the Government."

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